High School baseball: Hot bats and respect fuel rivalry for Aurora and Tallmadge
TALLMADGE — When the Suburban League American Conference came into being in 2015, it brought together two baseball-crazy communities.
Aurora was coming off its second trip to the state final four in 2015. Tallmadge's baseball reputation included multiple state final games and even a trip to the Little League World Series.
It didn't take long for these two baseball powers to blossom into a rivalry, albeit one with a tremendous amount of mutual respect.
"I would say it's taken over as our top rivalry," Tallmadge coach Kenny Linn said. "We've been talking for eight years now about this and we always look forward to playing them."
"Kudos to Kenny for the program that he's built," Aurora coach Michael Brancazio said. "It's a daily grind in this conference and Tallmadge is a big part of that.
"They're a hitting team. When you face them, you know you've got to be aggressive and attack the ball."
In the past six years, there have been some slugfests between two teams, including a victory by the Greenmen during Tallmadge's 2017 championship season.
"We've developed a fun, little showdown with them," Linn said. "They're in Division I now and with us in Division II, we're allowed to root for them. It's always good to see our conference succeed."
Even though both are a bit off the pace in this year's American Conference race, the two teams added another classic chapter to the rivalry earlier this year.
At Aurora on April 6, Tallmadge jumped on the Greenmen early, taking an 8-1 lead after two innings.
A three-run home run from Aurora senior Mikey Mylott got the Greenmen back in the game and Aurora rallied for a 9-8 win, thanks to a game-winning hit from Andrew Horvath.
It felt like summer Tuesday afternoon at Dave Young Field when the rivals met again.
Once again, a team jumped out in front. This time, however, there would be no rally.
Aurora plated five runs in the top of the first inning and never trailed, banging out 17 hits on its way to a 14-5 win and season sweep of the Blue Devils.
The Greenmen's offense was as lucky as it was prolific, as nearly half of Aurora's hits were the seeing-eye variety, falling just outside Tallmadge gloves.
Brancazio acknowledged the fortunate bounces, but lauded his team's approach at the plays.
"We do everything where we try to hit the top half of the ball," Brancazio said. "We don't want any fly balls. We know Tallmadge is a hitting team, so we had to put a lot of balls in play."
Two of those seeing-eye hits — combined with two walks, a sacrifice fly, a hit batsman and two solid singles — spelled a quick afternoon for Tallmadge staring pitcher James Catherine.
Catherine (3-0) retired just two batters before being lifted. A two-run single from Aurora shortstop Anthony Dolata chased him from the game.
"[Catherine] has thrown the ball well all season," Linn said. "There were just a couple of balls on the ground that could have ended it that we didn't get to. Then he made a couple of mistakes.
"They've killed us at the plate in each of our games this year," he added. "We've struggled all season to get the big hit. They were able to get a lot of big hits today."
Tallmadge was able to cut lead to 6-4 after four innings, thanks to a double from Owen Jascoe and back-to-back singles from Catherine and Mason Dexter.
But Aurora reasserted itself with a four-run fifth inning, highlighted by an RBI double from right fielder Sean Fritinger, a two-run single from center fielder Ryan Weber and an RBI double from Mylott.
Mylott then put an exclamation point on the win by belting his second three-run homer of the year vs. Tallmadge in the seventh inning. The blast hit the top of the left-field fence and bounced over.
Brancanzio said Mylott has had a huge spring for Aurora, especially given the absence of several key players.
"That just shows how much power he has," Brancanzio said. "We've been playing without our leadoff hitter and either our No. 3 or 4 hitter for a couple of weeks. We've had that 'next man up' attitude.
"We could get Mike Carpenter back later this week. When he moves into the lineup, I know Mylott will see more fastballs."
More fastballs mean more fireworks in May for the Greenmen.
Fans of this rivalry have come to expect fireworks at the plate.